Liu Guoliang

October 31, 2014

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!

Table Tennis Plans and Other Work

It's been an incredibly busy week, and yet I'm more energized now than in years. Why is that? Ever since I decided to run for the USATT Board (assuming I get on the ballot) I've been busy planning out the stuff I've been arguing for (and planning for) for years. Much of it is stuff I've already done or others have done, and only need to introduce to this country, so it's not like we're re-inventing the wheel (or the ping-pong ball) again. Since I do the blog (and Tip of the Week) in the morning, this leaves much of the day for other activities, such as promoting MDTTC and (hopefully) working with USATT.

Yesterday I spent a good portion of the day working out plans and discussing with others the idea of recruiting an entrepreneurial leader to help create a USA Professional Table Tennis Players Association (hopefully with a better name), whose job it would be to go to cities in the NA Tour (assuming we go that route) and bring in sponsorships for each stop (hopefully to dramatically increase prize money), as well as organize activities, find ways to make and save money for the top players (free places to stay, etc.), and other ways of professionalizing the sport in this country. This is only one of the five main issues I plan to work on - I blogged about this on October 23. I've already worked out plans for all five. (I've had them for a long time, but had to write them out and fine-tune them.) I've told people the plan is to have enough prize money so at least eight USA players can make a full-time living as players by the time Kanak Jha (age 14) is ready to go to college, and has to make that college-or-table-tennis decision. Of course, that's sort of just a slogan (a long one), but the idea is that we want up-and-coming juniors to have this option, as well as being able to show other students that there indeed are professional players in this country.

Regarding item #1 from the Oct. 23 blog, "Create a USATT Coaching Academy to Recruit and Train Professional Coaches to Set Up Training Centers and Junior Programs," I've been arguing versions of this for years. At the December, 2006 USATT Board Meeting I made a formal proposal that USATT get involved in this, with the goal of 100 serious training centers with junior programs in five years. At the time there were only about eight in the country. The proposal was pretty much laughed at, even though total financial commitment from USATT was exactly $0. (The plan was to change the focus of currently run USATT coaching clinics, and to use the web page and magazine to recruit potential coaches/directors/promoters.) Two board members openly argued that there simply isn't enough players in this country for full-time training centers, missing the whole point that you develop the demand.

And so the item was checked off the agenda list and they went on to more important stuff that would quickly be forgotten. I had a similar experience at the 2009 USATT Strategic Meeting and other USATT meetings. But if I'm on the board, I'll be in a position to get these things done - all it takes is one person to take action. While others might not take initiative, it's not so easy to openly block someone else taking initiative when it costs almost nothing. I've discussed these ideas with enough board members to know they should get enough support to make them happen. (Not all of them were at the meetings I mention above.)

There are now 76 full-time table tennis centers in the U.S. that I know of. As I've blogged before, I believe this is the best thing happening in table tennis right now. It's why we now have so many top juniors now, as well as more in general. It's why we've gone from a few dozen full-time coaches to many hundreds of them. And yet this is a fraction of the potential if we simply organize this by recruiting and training such coaches/directors/promoters, rather than make each one of them re-invent the wheel or informally learn how to do it from others doing it. (I've spent a lot of time advising people on this. I spent some of my trip to Indiana this past weekend advising two people who are planning two new full-time centers.)

Meanwhile, I've been doing my usual table tennis work. There's the usual private and group coaching, which is mostly nights and weekends. This week I seem to be emphasizing backhand work with my students, just as last week. Lots of backhand drills! More of my students (and others at MDTTC) are really topspinning their backhands, and those balls are really hopping - it's getting scary! I've had several of our top juniors demonstrate their backhand loops for other up-and-coming ones, and have begun making sort of a study on how they each do it differently. (For example, some never change the racket angle during the backswing, while others close it slightly in the backswing and then open it again as a way to get more "snap" into the shot. World-class players also vary in this way, with the key being that the racket angle should be constant during the time just before, during, and after contact or you can't really control it.) 

Yesterday a new beginning junior class started with 11 players. I'm also doing the afterschool program, which involves picking up kids at school, coaching, and tutoring. I spent some time working out the upcoming training program for one of our top players, and met with him for half an hour to go over it. As blogged about on Tuesday, I spent Fri-Mon traveling to and from and coaching at the 4-star South Shore Open in Indiana. I've since updated my notes on several of the players I watched there - I keep running notes. I also researched some info from an old USATT Magazine for someone - I have nearly every magazine going back to 1976, though some are crumbling.

One of the regular activities of table tennis coaches is writing letters of recommendation for students when they reach college age. I wrote a bunch this week for Tong Tong Gong. We have seven full-time coaches at MDTTC, but I'm the writer-coach, and most of the others are Chinese and don't write English well, so it falls on me to do this.

Back Problems

This is exciting - I have a new back injury! New and different!!! The injury is in my upper right back, I think a small muscle tear. I've never injured this spot before, so let's all give a great welcome to this brand new injury!

I think I hurt it on the 11-hour ride back from Indiana, or at least it stiffened up there. When I returned my air bed was a bit low on air, but it's very noisy to fill up, and so I waited until the next day - and I think sleeping on a soft air bed may have aggravated it further. I was mostly okay when I coached on Tuesday and Wednesday, but it was bothering me a bit. Then, during a session yesterday, my whole upper right back pretty much became a solid mass of injured rock, and I could barely rotate to hit shots. Halfway through a one-hour session I had to stop, and I had to cancel a one-hour session later that night. (In between I did new junior class, but I only had to do simple demos and multiball for that.) Anyway, I'll rest it today and tomorrow (no coaching planned for once), and see how it is on Sunday. I don't think it's too bad; I should be fine soon.

Halloween Table Tennis

World Cadet Challenge

Crystal Wang, Kanak Jha, and Jack Wang all went 3-0 in their preliminary RRs, and are now in the Final 16 in Singles. They will play two rounds today, and the final two rounds (SF and Final) tomorrow. Here's the girls' draw, and here's the boys' draw. Here's a feature ITTF article on Crystal's latest performance. Here's the ITTF home page for the event, which is taking place in Bridgetown, Barbados, Oct. 23 - Nov. 1. In the round of 16 Crystal will play Nanapat Kola of Thailand; Kanak will play Martin Friis of Sweden; and Jack will play Wong Ho Hin of Hong Kong. You can watch the matches live here.

Breaking News added at 1PM on Fri: Crystal, Kanak, and Jack all won their first match in the main draw, and are into the quarterfinals.

Breaking News added at 6:30PM on Fri: Kanak won in the quarterfinals, 4-1 over Vitor Santos of Brazil. Alas, Crystal lost in the quarterfinals, 2-4 to Adina Diaconu of Romania, and Jack lost in the quarterfinals, 1-4 to Cristian Pletea of Romania. (Semifinals and hopefully the final for Kanak are tomorrow - Saturday.) 

Liu Guoliang Misinterpreted by Media?

Here's the article where China's Coach Liu Guoliang apparently denies he ordered Wang Hao to dump the Olympic Men's Singles Final to Zhang Jike in 2012. (See this article, which I linked to yesterday, with the note that a commenter there said Coach Liu had been misquoted.) I'm starting to get more suspicious as he and the players never actually deny it. Here are what Coach Liu, Zhang Jike, and Wang Hao said on this:

Coach Liu Guoliang said, "Zhang Jike deserved the Grand Slam. Wang Hao has no complains being an Olympic runner-up for the third time. Both are my pride. There is no distinction as to my feelings to them. They are like my children. I will never allow them to concede, and I will never allow anyone or anything to hurt them."

Zhang Jike said, "Coach Liu, everything that you've done are all fair and open. We must resolutely put an end to doubts that violate the morals and spirit of sports."

Wang Hao said, "After reaching the finals, I certainly wanted to win the title."

When someone falsely accuses you of ordering someone to dump, isn't the normal response to be a denial that you ordered someone to dump? As noted, this only makes it seem more suspicious. Perhaps Coach Liu said more in Chinese that didn't get translated; I don't know. China does have a long history of ordering players to dump, but that supposedly ended years ago. Or did it? (The dumping was done for various reasons ranging from strategic to political.)

Breaking News: Here's a new article "Fixing the Olympic Finals is Impossible," where Zhang Jike says more on the topic, and seems to insist there was no fixing, though again he doesn't seem to say so explicitly. Technically, only Coach Liu and Wang Hao know if the latter was ordered to dump, so I wish Wang would just say, "I wasn't ordered to dump the 2012 Olympic Men's Singles Final." 

Ask the Coach

Here's Episode 20.

  • Question 1 - 0:49: I’ve got a problem, I don’t twist properly and the speed of my topspin drives are slow. I got the start and end positions right but i don’t twist much with the hip and the only thing that twists from me is my shoulder. How can i fix it? AmekunRaiane
  • Photo Bombing by Jeff's Mum - 2:30
  • Question 2 - 2:40: Hi, I was wondering whether, in doubles, you and your partner are able to switch bats between points. I know that you can't get a new bat, but i couldn't find an answer to this anywhere. Thanks. Bob James
  • Question 3 - 4:15: What should be the minimum height for the toss? And what if the server fails to achieve that minimum height? Can he be penalised in form of a point or is there something like a warning? Rutvik
  • Question 4 - 6:19: Recently I noticed that Ma Lin twiddled his bat right before he serves. I was wondering if you could give me some tips on how to twiddle. Yu

Mezyan Table Tennis Imaginarium

It's now open, where you can buy table tennis art, clothing, tech stuff, or accessories, featuring the artwork of Mike Mezyan.

Boxer Lennox Lewis Visits Werner Schlager Academy

Here's the article and picture of the visit to the Werner Schlager Academy in Austria by Lennox Lewis, the last undisputed heavyweight boxing champion of the world as well as the Olympic Gold Medalist.

GoPro Here 3+ Test

Here's the video (1:28) by PingSkills of table tennis as videoed by a camera attached to a player's forehead! (They look like miners to me.)

The Needle and Table Tennis Nation

Here's an article on the late great Marty Reisman and his founding of Table Tennis Nation.

The Official Table Tennis Nation Halloween Costume Guide

Here's the article and pictures from Table Tennis Nation!

Keep Your Eye on the Ball

Here's the cartoon! (Wouldn't this be a nice Halloween costume?)

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June 27, 2014

Tactics Coaching

Yesterday I had my fourth one-hour tactics session with Kaelin and Billy, with one more session scheduled for today. (See blogs the last three days.) Today we started off by going over the tactics for playing lefties. The most important thing here, of course, is to play lefties so you get used to them. For most, the trickiest part is returning their serves effectively, especially pendulum serves that break away from a righty to his wide forehand. These serves can be deep, they can go off the side, or they can double bounce on the forehand side. There are a number of tricks to returning them. First, anticipate the break so you aren't lunging after the ball. Second, if you do reach for the ball, don't lower your racket as you do so as it'll end up too low, and you'll either have to return it soft, high, or off the end. Also, it's often easier to take these balls down the line, where it's like looping a block; if you go crosscourt, you have to battle the spin more, like looping a backspin, except you probably have more practice against backspin. Finally, since a lefty is often looking to follow this serve up with a big forehand, it's effective to fake as if you are taking it down the line to their forehand, so that they have to guard that side, and at the last second take it to their backhand, thereby taking their forehand out of the equation.

We then revisited doubles tactics, which we'd covered already. This time I wanted them to actually practice circling footwork, where the players circle around clockwise so they can approach the table with their forehands (i.e. from the backhand side). This takes lots of practice, but what they can learn quickly is an adjusted version, where they only circle after the first shot. Whoever is serving or receiving steps back and circles around his partner so he can approach from the backhand side. The complication is if the opponents return the ball to the wide backhand and your partner is over on the backhand side. In this case the server/receiver doesn't circle about and instead stays back and toward the forehand side until he can move in for his shot.

Both players have had trouble with choppers, so I pulled out my long pips racket and we spent about half an hour on playing choppers. There are four basic ways.

With "Asian style" you do long, steady rallies where you lightly topspin the ball (basically rolling it) over and over to the off surface (usually long pips), knowing that all they can do is chop it back with light backspin. This makes it easy for you to topspin over and over until you see an easy one to rip. Then you rip it, usually to the middle, or at a wide angle. If they chop it back effectively, you start over.

With "European style" you move the chopper in and out with short serves and pushes, followed by strong loops. The idea is to bring the chopper in so he doesn't have time to back up and chop your next shot. If he does back up too fast, you push short a second time, catching him going the wrong way.

With "Pick-hitting style," you push steadily until you see a ball to attack, and then go for it. If it's chopped back effectively, you start over. It takes a lot of patience and judgment to do this. The problem here is the chopper can also pick-hit if you push too much, plus a chopper is probably better at pushing.

With "Chiseling style," you simply push over and over, refusing to miss, and turn it into either a battle of patience and attrition, or force the chopper to attack. It usually goes to expedite, and then one player has to attack. I don't like this method.

I had the two of them practice these methods, especially Asian style, where they had to roll softly over and over and over, and finally rip one.

We also went over the penhold and Seemiller grip, long pips, pips-out, antispin, and hardbat. It's all covered in detail in Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers.

North American Cup

The big winners were USA's just-turned-fourteen Kanak Jha and Canadian champion Mo Zhang. Kanak won the Men's final over Adam Hugh, 19,8,9,-6,4, while Mo won over Crystal Wang, 4,-8,11,4,7. Here are the results for Women's Singles and Men's Singles. Here's the ITTF home page for the event, where you can find results, articles, photos, and video. Here's a story from the ITTF about Kanak and Crystal reaching the final.

The schedule was rather strange. They had the Women's Final scheduled for 9:20 PM, and the Men's Final for 10PM. Why so late? Worse, this was Pacific Time; for me in Maryland, they were three hours later, at 12:20 AM and 1:00AM. I had to get up early to coach at our camp, so I didn't plan to stay up for either. However, at the last minute I was still awake, and so decided to watch Crystal's match, and went to bed right afterwards.

I don't think too many people expected a 12-year-old to be in the Women's Singles Final. At one point things looked pretty close, with the two splitting the first two games, and Crystal coming back from down 7-10 and 10-11 to deuce the third game. Who knows what would have happened if she'd pulled that one out? But it was not to be. My main thoughts on the match: Crystal is usually very good at attacking the opponent's middle, but Mo often stood a bit more centered than most players and so Crystal's shots to her middle were actually into her backhand, and so Mo made strong backhand counter-hits, and so they had a lot of straight backhand-to-backhand exchanges. Crystal also might have tried some heavy pushes to the wide forehand, forcing Mo to open with her short-pips forehand while drawing her out of position and vulnerable to a counter-attack to her backhand side. But this is easier said than done since it can be tricky playing pips-out when you are mostly used to playing inverted. (Crystal does get to play pips-out penholder Heather Wang at our club somewhat regularly, so she is experienced against pips.)

Spinny Loop in Slow Motion Tutorial

Here's a nice video (2:58) that shows a top player demonstrating a spinny loop, both in real time and slow motion, with explanations in English subtitles.

Liu Guoliang: Ma Long Is Likely To Achieve His Dreams in This Cycle

Here's the article, which includes links to two videos of Ma's matches.

Unbelievable Backhand by Ai Fukuhara

Here's the video (41 sec) from the Japan Open this past weekend. Note that Fukuhara of Japan (on the near side, world #10) did this shot at one-game each and down 9-10 game point against Li Fen of Sweden (world #16). However, Li Fen would go on to win the game 12-10 and the match 4-1 before losing in the semifinals to eventual winner Feng Tianwei of Singapore.

Ping-Pong Trick Shots

Here's the video (6:07) showing all sorts of trick shots with a ping-pong ball.

Pong-Ping - Why It Never Took Off

Here's the cartoon.

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June 17, 2014

Arm Wrestling and Table Tennis

During a break today during our MDTTC camp yesterday, several of the kids began arm wrestling. Alarms began blaring in my head.

Long ago I was a competitive arm wrestler. How competitive? Here's a picture in the newspaper of me winning the 1983 University of Maryland arm wrestling championships. (Little known fact: arm wrestling is more technique than strength, though of course at the higher levels you absolutely need both. In a few minutes I can teach an average person how to beat a much stronger person.) What's not mentioned in the picture caption was that during this match I hurt my arm so badly that I was out of table tennis for six months. And it was far worse than that - I've had ongoing arm problems ever since.

After I'd mostly recovered from this injury, someone heard about my arm wrestling background in the late 1980s, and challenged me to a match. I smiled, and pretty much slammed his arm down so fast it was over in one second. Result? I was out another five months or so as it healed again. (I actually played some during this time, but only blocking or chopping.) 

It not only knocked me out of table tennis for months at a time, it ruined my game on and off for years. When I hurt the arm I was a 2200 player. Here's chapter 11 of volume 14 of Tim Boggan's History of U.S. Table Tennis, which just went online. In it you'll find me losing in the final of Under 2000 to Stephen Yeh at the 1985 U.S. Open. Under 2000??? Me??? But that's what happens when your arm is constantly hurting, and you can barely loop or hit backhands. I probably took off 1-2 months to rest it at least 7-8 times, and it rarely helped. (I finally mostly got over it with a combination of ultrasound treatments, strength exercises involving stretching a thick rubber band in various ways, and lots of irritating rest.

I'm not the only one this has happened to. I'm hitting a blank, but I remember others who have injured their arm from arm wrestling and had to take time off from table tennis. It's just so easy to spend a few seconds with an impromptu and informal arm wrestling match, without realizing the possible consequences. Here's a page showing common injuries from arm wrestling. The list is rather long. 

So when I saw the kids arm wrestling, after a moment of reminiscing and reliving painful memories, I warned them against it. I also pulled aside some of our top juniors and sort of gave them the riot act - basically, do not risk all your years of training for this. No arm wrestling!

I wonder what other activities up-and-coming table tennis players should avoid. Skiing? (Several of our kids ski regularly, and as far as I know there's been no broken legs or other injuries.) Sky diving? Bungee jumping? Bear wrestling? Some coaches advise against tennis since it can mess with your table tennis strokes, and that's probably true for developing players, but I don't think it seriously affects a table tennis player whose strokes are ingrained.

If you want to see hyper-muscled arm wrestlers showing off their strength and then playing table tennis, here's the page.

MDTTC Camp

Yesterday was the first day of our MDTTC summer camps. They are Mon-Fri every week for ten straight weeks. They are for all ages and levels, but are dominated by our junior players. (This week's camp has only one player over age 18, and he's 22 or so.) Turnout was a little smaller than usual, with fewer out of towners than usual. Coach Cheng Yinghua said he thinks this is because there are so many other training centers now running camps. We used to get contingents from New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, and other states, but they all have their own training camps. 

One side result is that since it was mostly locals, we decided to skip my normal lectures and get the players out to the tables as quickly as possible. So there will be fewer of my brilliant, world-renowned lectures (that's how I remember them) but more sweating time at the table. (Though we do have air conditioning!) 

Today's most difficult task in my group? Convincing the younger kids when we do multiball that it doesn't matter who goes first, you are all going to get the same number of turns!!! One kid had a meltdown over this, all because he lost a rock-paper-scissors thing with another kid over who got to go first. (Okay, they were about seven years old, the youngest in the camp.) Meanwhile, as we usually do, on day one we focused on the forehand.

Upcoming ITTF Coaching Courses in the U.S.

Here's a listing:

Nittaku Poly Ball

I blogged about this extensively yesterday. Here's a long discussion about it at the Mytabletennis.com forum. (The discussion began before I blogged about it.) 

ITTF Reforms Dangerous Says Liu Guoliang

Here's the article

Susan Sarandon, Ping Pong, and Testicular Cancer

Here's the article on her ping-pong related charity work.

Frank Caliendo and the Baltimore Orioles

Here's an article about Frank's visit to the Orioles clubhouse on Saturday, where he played table tennis with the players. (I blogged about this yesterday.)

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Twenty-five down, 75 to go!

  • Day 76: The Wonderful World of Disney's
  • Day 77: Paying Tribute to Our “Founder-President” Patriarch: Hon. Ivor Montagu

Table Tennis in a Mall in Orlando

Here's an article in the Orlando Sentinel about an exhibition at a mall. Taking part were Michael McFarland, Gary Fraiman, Mark Hazell, and Timothy & Aydin Lee. 

Incredible Point at World Hopes Challenge

Here's the video (40 sec) where USA's Michael Tran (far side) goes up against Mexico's Dario Arce in the quarterfinals in Austria. Besides the incredible blocking, see Dario's spin move near the end! Dario had beaten Michael in the team competition, and went up 2-0 in games here, but Michael came back to win in five.

Marco Freita and Soccer

Here's the video (~15 sec) of the Portugal #1 (and world #13) showing off his soccer skills.

Adam Bobrow Playing Outdoors in China

Here's video (1:57) of Adam playing outdoor table tennis in a park in China.

"Think Different" Apple Ad

Here it is - with table tennis!

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June 5, 2014

Yesterday's Coaching

I had a number of coaching sessions yesterday. (This was after running around picking some of them up at two schools for our afterschool program.) The last two were rather interesting in that I introduced them to playing against long pips. I keep a huge racket case with five different rackets inside. (I've had this racket case since 1988 – Cheng Yinghua gave it to me the year he came to the U.S. as a practice partner/coach for our resident training program in Colorado Springs, where I was at various times manager/director/assistant coach.)

The rackets are: A long pips with 1mm sponge chopping racket; a long pips no-sponge pushblocking racket; a racket with antispin and inverted; one with short pips and inverted; a pips-out penholder racket; and a defensive hardbat. (I also have an offensive hardbat that I myself use in hardbat competitions, which I keep in a separate racket case in my playing bag.) I pull these rackets out as necessary for students to practice against or with.

I pulled the rackets out at the end of the first player's session, and invited the other player who was about to begin to join in. Then I went over the rackets, explaining each one. (The players were Daniel, age nine, about 1450, and Matt, about to turn 13, about 1650.) Neither had ever seen antispin before. They had played against long pips a few times, but didn't really know how to play it. They had seen hardbat and short pips, but hadn't played against them much, if at all. (I found it amazing they hadn't played against short pips, which used to be so common, but that surface has nearly died out. Just about everyone at my club uses inverted. I know of only one player at the club using short pips, the 2200+ pips-out penholder Heather Wang, who practices and plays against our top juniors regularly, so they are ready if they ever play pips-out players.)

I pulled out the long pips racket with no sponge, and let them play against it. They quickly figured out that when they looped, my blocks came back very heavy and often short. They also discovered that if they gave me backspin, my pushes had topspin. After I suggested trying no-spin, Daniel quickly became proficient at giving me a deep dead ball to the deep, wide backhand, and then stepping around and loop killing my dead return.

Since Matt was my last session and I could go late, I let them hit together for a while. They took turns with the rackets, with Daniel especially trying out all the rackets. He likes playing defense, and ended up using the chopping blade with long pips for about ten minutes against Matt's looping. When learning to play these surfaces, it's important not only to practice against them, but also to try using them so you can see first-hand what the strengths and weaknesses are.

One results of all this - Daniel's dad bought him a copy of my book Table Tennis Tactics for Thinkers. Soon they will know all the intracacies of playing long pips and all other tactics as well!

On Monday in the segment about the WETA filming I blogged about how I'd hurt my right knee and shoulder. I was toying with getting someone to do my hitting in my private sessions yesterday, but decided the injuries weren't too bad. I managed to get through the sessions without aggravating them. The knee and shoulder are still bothering me, but I think if I'm careful I'll manage to get by. Just don't let any of my students know or they'll start lobbing (exit shoulder) or going to my wide forehand (exit knee). Shhh!

Tactics for Playing Backhand Dominant Players

Here's the article.

2014 Stiga Trick Shot Showdown

It's back! Here's the info page, and here's info video (1:16). The Grand prize is $4000, a trip to the World Tour Grand Final, and a one-year Stiga sponsorship. Second is $2000, third is $500 in Stiga gear. Deadline is Sept. 5. But let's be clear – the rest of you are all playing for second because nobody, Nobody, NOBODY is going to beat the incredible trick shot I will do this year . . .once I come up with one.

Liu Guoliang Criticizes Reform on World Championships.

Here's the article. I've always had mixed feelings on Chinese domination of our sport. It's true that it takes much of the interest away. However, China has done about all it can to help the rest of the world. It's opened up and allowed its top players to go to other countries as coaches – pretty much anyone who makes a Regional team in China (and they have over 30, with most of them stronger than the USA National Team) can become a lifelong professional coach in some other country. A major reason for the increase in level and depth in U.S. junior play in recent years is the influx of Chinese coaches, who have been opening up full-time training centers all over the country. It sort of reminds me of martial arts back in the 1960s and '70s, when Korean and Chinese coaches opened up studios all over the U.S.

ITTF China World Tour Interview with Ariel Hsing

Here's the video (1:04).

100-Day Countdown to Change in the ITTF's Presidency

Former USATT President Sheri Pittman Cioroslan is doing an article every day during the last 100 days of Adham Sharara's ITTF presidency. Previous ones are linked from the USATT News page, as well as in my past blogs. Thirteen down, 87 to go!

  • Day 88: Interview with Vladimir Samsonov, Chair of the Athletes Commission

Zhang Jike Multiball

Here's the video (1:55) of him training just before the 2013 Worlds. I don't think I've posted this, but if I have, it's worth watching again.

Table Tennis Physical Training

Here's the video (21 sec). Why aren't you doing this?

News from New York

Here's the article.

Incredible Rally

Here's video (27 sec) of one of the more incredible rallies you'll ever see. It doesn't say who the players are, though the player on the near side might be Samsonov – I can't tell, though it looks like his strokes. (You see his face right at the end of the video, and I'm not sure but I don't think that's him.) (EDIT: several people have verified that the player on the near side is Samsonov, and the one on the far side is Kreanga. [Alberto Prieto was the first to do so.] Kreanga's a bit blurry in the video, but I should have recognized his strokes!)

Ping Pong Summer in Maryland

Tomorrow I'm seeing the 7:30 PM showing of Ping Pong Summer at the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring, Maryland. Anyone want to join me? (Email me or comment below.)

Ping Pong Summer Challenge

Here's video (2:58) where members of the cast of the movie are challenged to drink a soda while bouncing a ping pong ball on a paddle. Those challenged were actors Marcello Conte, Myles Massey, Emmi, Shockley, and writer/director Michael Tully.

Octopus Playing Table Tennis

Here's the video (34 sec) – and this might be the funniest table tennis video I've ever seen! It's an extremely well animated giant octopus playing table tennis simultaneously on four tables. You have to see this.

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May 9, 2014

Three Less Obvious Reasons China Dominates

The primary reasons for China's dominance are they train harder, have more players, and have more and better coaches. These are all true. However, the base of the dominance actually comes from three almost iconic changes in their training and playing styles.

First, the more obvious one, was the change from the close-to-the-table pips-out attacking styles that dominated from the 1960s to the 1980s, as well as (to a lesser degree) one-winged penhold loopers. By the late 1980s it was obvious that two-winged looping was going to dominate the game, and that the last few successful hitters were mostly hanging on because European loopers weren't used to playing that style. Countries like Sweden brought in pips-out hitting practice partners, got used to playing it, and in the early 1990s China went through a drought as European players dominated the game. Many of the Chinese coaches who had advocated sticking with their traditional pips-out games were replaced, and soon China began dominating with two-winged loopers who were even better than the Europeans. In fact, they revolutionized the game by developing loopers who could stay closer to the table than the traditional European looping style, and soon European loopers were struggling to keep up.

Second, during the 1990s another traditional Chinese style nearly died out - penholders. For a time they nearly disappeared from the world-class rankings. But then players from China developed the reverse penhold backhand, and learned to play their backhands almost the same as a shakehander. It started with Liu Guoliang, then Ma Lin, then Wang Hao (world #6, former #1) and Xu Xin (current #1 in the world). The big question for years was whether the future of penhold play was a combination of reverse penhold backhands for attacking with conventional backhands for blocking, or just reverse penhold backhands, even when blocking. The latter won out. While the pips-out penhold style pretty much died out, the one-winged penhold looping game transitioned into a two-winged penhold looping style that competes evenly with two-winged shakehand loopers.

Third is perhaps the less obvious one to many. China and most Asian countries have traditionally worshipped training, and would drill for hour after hour, day after day, often seven days a week. Because of this the Chinese always had the best players from a technical point of view. And yet, the European men would often battle with them with their obviously "weaker" games. The reason? The Europeans had one ace up their sleeve - they knew the value of constant competition, and they competed constantly in leagues and training matches, as well as drills that mimicked match play. And so their players, while not as technically proficient as the Chinese, knew how to win with what they had, while the Chinese often were more robotic, playing matches as if they were drills. But the Chinese figured this out, and by the turn of the century their coaches had their players playing more and more matches, both in practice and in leagues and tournaments. Events like the Chinese Super League allowed even more matches. They also incorporated more match-type drills into their training.

And so the match-savvy Europeans found themselves up against match-savvy Chinese, and with the Chinese technological superiority, the rest is history. Just browse this listing of World Champions (singles, doubles, teams) and you'll see. They've won Men's Teams seven times in a row and nine of the last ten. (Note that just before that Sweden won three times in a row.) They've won Women's Teams ten of the last eleven and 18 of the last 20 times.

"Dang"

I have a new official policy. Roughly every 30 seconds while coaching, when playing out points with students, I'll say something along the lines of "I would have gotten to that ball ten years ago," or "Shots like that used to be so easy." Well, this takes up a lot of time and gets repetitive. And so, starting this past week, my new policy is that whenever I can't run down or make a shot that I know, with 100% absolute certainty and beyond any doubt, that I would have made in the past when I was a world-class conditioned professional athlete (stop laughing now), I will just say, "Dang," and my student will know what it means.

Ma Long's Earned Everyone's Respect

Here's the article from TableTennista. It includes a link to his two matches in the Men's Final at the Worlds against Germany. Here are videos with the time removed between points: Ma Long vs. Timo Boll (4:07) and Ma Long vs. Dimitrij Ovtcharov (4:21).

Liu Guoliang Doesn't Blame Zhang Jike

Here's the article from TableTennista. It includes a link to the Zhang Jike-Dimitrij Ovtcharov video (31:10); here's a video of the match with time between points removed (5:01).

Table Tennis for the Cure

Here's the article. "A Sheffield man with a brain disorder is battling back to health after a coma – and puts his recovery down to table tennis."

USATT Awarded US Paralympic Grant from US Department of Veterans Affairs

Here's the article.

2014 US Para Team Profiles

Here's the video (11:12), narrated by Stellan and Angie Bengtsson

Selfies from the Worlds

Here's the music video (1:14) of players at the worlds doing selfies to music.

Human Ping-Pong Ball

Here's the picture - though I think he looks more like a big fat onion to me!

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March 1, 2013

Flu Update

It's much better than before, but I'm still sick. I won't bore (or sicken) you with the details, so let's just say I'm singlehandedly propping up the economy with my support of NyQuil, Campbell Soup, and Kleenex Industries and. If all goes well, I expect to be coaching at the club tomorrow morning. It'll be a short blog this morning, then (after a few other items on my todo list), it's back to bed.

Off-Table Serve Practice

Here's a way to develop your serves away from the table - and it may greatly improve them. Start with a simple exercise: toss a ball in the air as if serving, and spin it with your racket. Try to do this so the ball goes straight up so you can easily catch it. After you've mastered this, try varying the spin. Try spinning it with the racket moving side-to-side, in-and-out, and in both directions. Learn to do all sorts of spins this way, where you focus on sheer spin and control. When you can do this, you are only one step away from doing this with an actual serve.

Ma Long - Superman?

Here's an article on Ma Long, the "Superman of the Chinese Team." Includes links to several videos.

Liu Guoliang and Kong Linghui

Here's an article on these two titans of China, formerly superstar players and now coaches of the Chinese Men's and Women's National Teams.

LA Dodgers Ping-Pong

Here's an article from Table Tennis Nation on the LA Dodgers baseball team quickly becoming baseball's official ping-pong team.

Ping-Pong Making a Comeback

Here's an article and video (1:42) on how table tennis is "trending." Table tennis coach and player Matt Winkler is featured.

Cape Fear Table Tennis

Here's a documentary (11:26) on the Cape Fear Table Tennis Club in Fayetteville, NC.

Olympian Magazine

Here's a link to the online Olympian Magazine, both the new issue and past ones. Nothing directly table tennis related, but it might be of interest to some. One article might in particular jumped out at me (haven't read it yet) - "The Role of Deliberate Practice in Becoming an Expert Coach: Part 2 - Reflection." (Presumably there's a Part 1 in the previous issue.)

Behind the Back Training

Here's a video (19 sec) showing behind the back training on an iPong robot! That's Steven Chan doing the demo. (I'm jealous; because of stiff shoulders, behind-the-back shots are about the only "trick" shot in table tennis I've never mastered.)

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February 22, 2013

Forehand or Backhand Receive in Doubles?

More and more these days top players receive short balls with their backhand whenever possible. In doubles, where players only have to cover half the court on the receive, most players used to return everything with their forehands, so that they'd be ready to forehand loop anything that went long. But that paradigm has changed.

Here's a video (4:21, with time between points removed, not all points shown) of the all-Chinese Men's Doubles Final at the Kuwait Open this past weekend, where Xu Xin and Yan An defeated Zhang Jike and Ma Long, -6,9,10,4. The video showed 44 points; below is the breakdown on receives. Overall, players received forehand 24 times and backhand 20 times. However, these results were skewed by Yan An, who received forehand 12 times, backhand once. Take him out, and the other three had 12 forehand receives to 19 backhand ones.

  • Ma Long: FH 4, BH 8
  • Zhang Jike: FH 2, BH 7
  • Xu Xin: FH 6, BH 4
  • Yan An: FH 12, BH 1

Make sure to see the nifty ducking move by Ma Long in the point starting around 46 seconds in. Also, see where Zhang Jike and Ma Long accidentally bump into each other, about 65 seconds in. (Xu is the lefty penholder; Yan An his righty shakehands partner. I sometimes had trouble telling Zhang Jike and Ma Long apart in the video, especially on the far side where you couldn't see their names on their backs - they are dressed identically right down to their shoes, both have black on their forehands, have nearly the same haircuts, are about the same height, and from a distance look similar (at least to me on the video). I did so by keeping track of who was serving to who. In game one, Ma Long served to Xu Xin, and you can work out the rest from that.)

I did a similar analysis of an early-round match at the Qatar Open, which started yesterday. Here's a video (3:14, with time between points removed, not all points shown) from the Qatar Open just yesterday showing most of the points in a match in Men's Doubles in the round of 32 where Xu Xin (the same lefty penholder from the match above) and Fan Zhendong (righty shakehander) of China defeated Hungary's Janos Jakab (all-blue shirt) and Czech Republic's Michal Obeslo (blue shirt with orange sleeves), -10,4,8,6. The video showed 39 points; below is the breakdown on receives. Overall there were 27 forehand receives and 12 backhand, but the stats are again skewed, this time by Jakab's 11-1 stats. Take him out, and the other three had 16 forehand receives to 11 backhand ones.

  • Xu Xin: FH 4, BH 4
  • Fan Zhendong: FH 7, BH 3
  • Janos Jakab: FH 11, BH 1
  • Michal Obeslo: FH 5, BH 4

You could say that Yan An and Janos Jakab are "old school," in that they received nearly everything forehand, just as players in the past (including myself) were taught to do, so as to be ready to loop anything deep. However, newer players like to receive short serves with the backhand whenever possible, using banana flips with heavy topspin and often sidespin. (As I've blogged about before, this is also true in singles.)

In most cases, the players set up in advance to receive forehand or backhand. However, often you'd see them switch, based on the incoming serve. Ma Long and Zhang Jike in particular would sometimes set up forehand and switch to backhand as the serve was coming in. It looks like they were trying to receive long serves with their forehands, and would switch to backhand as soon as they saw the serve was short. Late in the match in the Kuwait Final, there are two points where Zhang Jike looped two serves in with his forehand against Yan An's serve - they were the only forehand receives he used that match, and probably the only long serves he saw.

Xu Xin, the lefty penholder, was tricky to watch. Sometimes it was hard telling if he was receiving forehand or backhand when he pushed (almost always short).

Qingdao Great Personality Award for the year 2012

Zhang Jike has been named the Qingdao Personality of the Year for 2012. Here's the article.

Who is Liu Guoliang's Favorite Player?

Answer: Chen Qi. Here's an article on what the Chinese Men's Coach and former star said. (Actually, despite the article's headline, what he really said was "Chen Qi is one of my favorite players on the National Team."  He also said that fans call him a "cute murderer.")

Mario vs. Maria

Here's a video (1:23) of a three-point challenge match between Mario Lopez and Maria Menounos from Extra TV, with "pro" table tennis players Elie Mehl and Adam Bobrow first giving a demo.

Ryder Cup Table Tennis

Here's a video (1:30) of Ryder Cup Golf players discussing table tennis. Players interviewed include Webb Simpson, Bubba Watson, and the reigning table tennis champion, Matt Kuchar. They make fun of Phil Mickelson, who was the best until Kuchar came along. Some quotes:

  • "The Ryder Cup is all about ping-pong."
  • "Bubba thinks he's good, but he just plays defense."
  • "I think it's clear that Matt Kuchar is the best. Phil Mickelson's not quite ready to admit it. I think he's in denial."
  • "When you bring your own paddles and cases, and a briefcase with a paddle, then it's obviously about ping-pong. Phil Mickelson and Matt Kuchar have their own cases for their paddles. It's nuts."
  • "Phil Mickelson pouts every time we make him play Matt Kuchar. Love you Phil!"

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September 18, 2012

Learn From Others

Something that's always bothered me as weird is that often I'll play someone who absolutely cannot return my serves. If the player is a beginner, they'll often ask how I do the serve and how to return it. But starting at the intermediate and advanced levels, almost nobody asks, even if they struggle with my serve, even if it's someone I coach. This is especially bothersome with up-and-coming juniors, who presumably are striving for a high level. Don't they want to learn?

The same is true of other aspects of the game, but a player can better see what's happening with most other techniques. If they struggle with my short receive, they can see I'm just dropping the ball short. If they can't see the direction of my forehand, they can see that I'm changing directions at the last second by turning my shoulders. But they usually cannot see how, for example, I'm serving topspin when I'm stroking downward with an open racket, hitting the bottom of the ball, and continuing downward. (Short answer - the racket is rotating about an axis centered over the hitting surface, and so the near side of the blade is actually rotating upward at contact, though only for a split second if done properly.) They can't see how it's done, and can't figure out how to read it (since they don't know where the topspin is coming from), and yet they never ask! (Well, rarely.)

Next time you're playing me or someone else and struggling to react to spins that don't look like they should be there, ask how it's done. I'll show you, as will most top players, most of whom you'll find love to talk about their craft. There are multiple ways to create these deceptions (serving is the "trick" part of table tennis), and are much easier to show in person than in an article, even with a photo sequence. Tricky serves are subtle, and subtlety doesn't show up well in photo sequences. 

I mentioned above that intermediate and advanced players rarely ask how these serves are done. Yes, while advanced players are experts at the specific techniques they use, many have large holes in their knowledge and skills.

Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook and the Most Interesting Criticism I Received This Week

A few years ago I wrote the Professional Table Tennis Coaches Handbook. The purpose was to show table tennis coaches the professional side of coaching - how to attract and keep students, run programs, maximize profits so they could make a good living, etc. A few days ago I was criticized for not including yoga in the Handbook - really!!!

I've been toying for a while with starting up a Coaches Academy, where I'd recruit and train players and coaches to be professional table tennis coaches, where they'd make a living as a coach while running large junior programs. I've argued for years that USA Table Tennis should be doing this (as is done in many other sports organizations, such as the U.S. Tennis Association), but to no avail. If I ever do this, the PTTCH would be the Handbook. (If only table tennis were played on slabs of ice instead of a table, then we'd call it ice tennis, and the Handbook would be the Professional Ice Tennis Coaches Handbook, or PITCH, and then I could pitch PITCH to everyone!)

Four Days Till the MDTTC September Open!

Have you entered yet? There will be a surprise guest appearance by everyone's favorite table tennis player - YOU!!! Unless, of course, you disappoint all your fans and don't show. That would be despicable. (Deadline to enter is 5PM Thursday.)

Liu Guoliang on Zhang Jike Missing World Cup

Here's an article where Chinese Men's Coach Liu Guoliang discusses why Zhang Jike will miss the World Cup.

Erica Wu and Barack Obama

Here's a picture of Olympian Erica Wu with President Obama outside the White House. (Yesterday we had Lily Zhang with Obama. I haven't found any with Ariel Hsing or Timothy Wang with Obama.)

Strange Table Tennis Pictures

Here's a page full of strange and weird table tennis pictures.

Transcending Table Tennis

Here's the Transcending Table Tennis page, with seven table tennis videos.

Interspecies Table Tennis

I believe we have humans, cats, and mice playing in this cartoon. Yes, the cat is playing with its food.

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September 6, 2012

Baltimore or Columbus?

This Thanksgiving a number of table tennis players will face a conundrum: Baltimore or Columbus?

The North American Teams in Baltimore (now in its 15th year) is a 4-star tournament that last year had 767 players playing 6557 matches, dwarfing the other two big U.S. tournaments that year, the 5-star U.S. Open (548 players, 2989 matches) and 5-star USA Nationals (502 players, 2934 matches). (The Open and Nationals stats don't include doubles, hardbat, or sandpaper matches, which might increase their numbers 10% or so.) They usually get about 200 teams, with 150 tables in a 150,000 square foot playing area at the Baltimore Convention Center, and give out over $20,000 in prize money. It's the biggest table tennis tournament in North America. One of my favorite activities each year is to watch newbies walk into the hall for the first time. The look on their faces when they see the endless rows of tables and equipment booths is priceless.

However, some players were unhappy with the prices and awards given out at the NA Teams last year. And so an alternative was born this year - the Thanksgiving Butterfly Teams in Columbus, OH. Though technically only a 2-star tournament, they promise players will have just as much competition in the same format for the three days of the tournament (both are run Nov. 23-25, starting the day after Thanksgiving), with better awards, though only $3000 in total prize money.

So what'll it be, Tradition or Upstart? Personally, I'm going to coach at whichever one my students go to, and I'll let them go wherever they choose. (My club is only an hour from Baltimore, while Columbus is seven hours away - but my club and many of its top players are sponsored by Butterfly. Quite the conundrum.)

Here's a quick comparison:

North American Teams in Baltimore

Thanksgiving Butterfly Teams in Columbus

Hardbat at the Nationals

Alas, I won't be playing hardbat events at this year's Nationals. Hardbat Doubles starts on the first day, Tuesday at 2:15, but with Under 22 Men at noon and the Junior Teams at 4PM, there's just too much conflict since I'll be coaching players in both events. Hardbat Singles and Over 40 Hardbat start on Wednesday and Friday, right in the middle of numerous events I'll be coaching.

It's the end (for now) of a "dynasty." I've won Hardbat Doubles at the Open or Nationals 13 times (9 times with Ty Hoff, 4 times with Steve Berger), and am the defending champion at both the Open and Nationals (both with Ty). I've also won Over 40 Hardbat four times and Hardbat Singles twice. (I normally use sponge, but play with hardbat as a sideline.)

Liu Guoliang: "I Am a Passionate Coach"

That's the title of this article on the Chinese National Coach and former superstar player.

Jim Butler on the Women's Game

Olympian and Three-time U.S. Men's Champion Jim Butler wrote a pair of insightful postings about the women's game recently on the about.com forum (responses #23 and 24), in response to questions. (After reading the second, I must sheepishly admit that I play my backhand like a woman - but I do it pretty well!!!) Here they are:

Question: Wouldn't THE best thing at this stage be for them [the top U.S. junior girls] to compete in international events against WOMEN?

Jim Butler: Yes in a perfect world with unlimited resources, that would be ideal. However, there is no USATT budget to do that. I have always felt that the U.S. Women's game has the best chance to reach success internationally. They have high enough level competition in this country to reach that goal.

To simulate that competition though, they must move over to the men's side. The women can compete year around in this country against men, and get the level and regularity of competition it takes to be successful internationally.

If you are a 2700 level man in this country, there are very few athletes higher than that, so competing internationally becomes a must to raise your game further to the likes of the Chinese, Germans, etc. The best women in the world are not better than 2700.

The U.S. Women's Team members are also in school, so competing in the United States also makes it possible to do both.

Question: Also, although the ratings suggest an equal level, playing against a 2600 man is a different experience from playing against a 2600 woman, and they need to face their peers and develop strategies against those styles

Jim Butler: It's not as different as one might think. The men's game clearly has more speed and power, but the women tend to be more consistent. I think most men can learn a lot by watching the women's game more, and appreciating the level of consistency they tend to play at.

If you watch a 2500 women beat a 2500 level man, they do it with consistency, and they make fewer unforced errors. The men can wow everyone with incredible power and speed on their shots. The highest level women force you to make a high quality shot nearly every point in order to beat them. They smother people with consistency.

Another very important aspect of the game the women tend to be better at than the men, is their ability to stay within their limits and game. Because men have the ability to hit the ball so hard, they tend to over play shots in their matches. If you watch most men play (especially at lower levels), you will see them lose many points a match because they tried to hit the ball out of the gym, instead of backing off and putting it on the table.

Younger male players really tend to do this, and so many points are wasted by trying to hit the ball too hard. Women will rarely hit the ball harder than they need to. 

Non-Table Tennis: "You're No Good, Baltimore Orioles"

My humorous poem (a takeoff on "You are Old, Father William") is featured on Orioles Hangout, the main online forum for the Baltimore Orioles baseball team. It's the seventh time they've featured my work. I wrote the poem on Tuesday night, the night that the Orioles tied the Yankees for first place in the American League East. (They had been trailing by ten games just a month ago.) Here's the first of the eight stanzas:

"You're no good, Baltimore Orioles," the sportswriter said,
"And your play all year long has been trite;
And yet you keep winning when you should be dead?
Do you think, since you're bad, it is right?"

Disastrous Table Tennis Slide

This video (17 seconds) shows why you should never jump on your ping-pong table when it is covered with ice.

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September 4, 2012

Tip of the Week

Multiball Training.

Coaching New Players

This past weekend had three new kids in the Beginning Junior Class I teach, Sat 10:30AM-Noon and Sun 4:30-6:00 PM. (All three came for the Sunday session.) All three started out really well. One of them picked up the strokes so fast she was doing footwork drills by the end of the session - and she's just six and a half! I've taught the class since it started in April, and about eight of the new players have gone on to take private lessons, including one who is starting with me this Wednesday.

One issue I still struggle with after all these years is how soon to bring on new techniques. Is it better to spend the first few sessions focusing on just the forehand, or spend time equally on forehand and backhand? When to introduce pushing? How much focus on serves? In a class situation, I generally focus more on the forehand early on, introducing the backhand perhaps in the second half of the second session. I introduce serves generally on the third session. I postpone pushing until the player can stroke effectively from both sides while doing footwork.

When doing private coaching, where you have more time, in a typical one-hour session I introduce the forehand, backhand, and serving in the first session, but again focus on the forehand more early on. The reasoning behind focusing on the forehand first (in both classes and private coaching) is that it's best to get one side really ingrained before focusing on the other side, and you have to choose one side - so I go with the forehand first. This would have been a no-brainer a few decades ago, when the game was somewhat dominated by forehand players, but now the game is more evenly divided between forehand players, backhand players, and those who do both equally. Another reason to focus on the forehand first is that it leads to more mobile footwork than if you focus on the backhand, where players tend to stand in one position more. (One remedy - have them do side-to-side backhand footwork, which most players neglect to do, instead focusing only on forehand footwork.)

Hardbatters of the Past, Present, and Future, part 2

In my blog on Friday, Aug. 31, I addressed the questions of how good were the best hardbat players of the past, compared to modern hardbat and sponge players, and where I also wrote about Cheng Yinghua playing hardbat. I wrote more about this yesterday in response to questions on the about.com forum. Here's what I wrote, with a few changes so it won't seem out of context.

I remember watching a little bit of the hardbat doubles match where Cheng Yinghua played with Julian Waters [at a USA Nationals about ten years ago]. However, Cheng didn't really practice for that match, other than a short warm-up with Julian. As I mentioned in my blog, it was only after about half an hour of intense practice with me that a light bulb sort of went off in his head, and from there on he dominated. If Cheng at that moment had then played doubles with Julian, he would have dominated the match and you would have been duly impressed with his attacking and counterhitting.

He also can chop surprisingly well, since he chops to students regularly with various rackets. However, one of the things I learned long ago about hardbat is that chopping hardbat to hardbat is very different than chopping against a sponge looper, which is what Cheng is used to. This is why Derek May's chopping with a hardbat isn't as effective as Steve Berger's, even though Derek is a far better chopper in the sponge game. While Cheng's hardbat chopping would dominate most players, the best hardbatters wouldn't have a lot of trouble with it. When you chop hardbat to hardbat, you have to learn to dig into the ball more aggressively than with sponge or against a loop, and you have to do a lot of spin variation. If you don't, the better attackers will go right through you. This is why, for example, Marty Reisman once beat a 2000 sponge chopper 21-0, since the chopper was only getting balls back without doing anything to make Reisman miss.

In a hypothetical match with Miles, assuming Cheng (at his peak) practiced for many months, I don't know what would happen. I do know that both players would have to work very hard for the match. In any hitting/counter-hitting duel at less than smashing speeds, Cheng would dominate. So Miles would be chopping and pick-hitting - no big deal, since that's primarily his game. When Miles pick-hits at full speed, that's where Cheng would be at a disadvantage as it is very difficult to counter-hit or even block against a smash with a hardbat, while it is surprisingly easy, for the best hardbatters, to chop them back from off the table - and Cheng doesn't really have that in his arsenal at a comparable level.

But Miles would have his hands full because Cheng's not going to have much trouble reading his changing spins, and would be attacking pretty hard with few mistakes. (But he won't have a devastating point-ending loop.) At his peak (i.e. when he was much younger), Cheng could hit as hard as the best. Of course Miles can return nearly everything, and the varied spin will force mistakes. If he does enough stiff chops, Cheng will eventually push or drive one soft, and that's when Miles might go for the smash. There would be great rallies because both of these players are incredibly consistent at what they do - Cheng attacking aggressively, Miles chopping aggressively.

One unknown is how well Cheng would develop his drop shot against Miles' chopping. Cheng has great touch in dropping spinny serves short with sponge, and showed nice touch with a hardbat when I played him, but we don't know how well his sponge touch, after a few months of practice, would convert to hardbat touch and instincts at the level needed. On the other hand, I have a feeling Cheng would play a patient topspin game, mixing in hard, medium, and soft topspins while he looks for a shot to put away, and so wouldn't drop shot too much.

Regarding serves, it's not just the hidden serves that'll give Miles trouble as much as the semi-circular serves, where Cheng can use a fast motion and give varied spins that are difficult to read, something that Miles not only said nobody did in his day but to the end told me he didn't believe it was possible to do. (I had a long argument with him on this, pointing out that many 1800 players can do this, but he really didn't believe me.) However, I'm sure that Miles would have adjusted and would have been able to chop most of the serves back effectively, though the serves would wear him down a bit for a few points at least each game. (If he had to attack the serves, then he would have had far greater difficulty, but chopping allows you to take the ball as late as possible and just float it back.)

It's sort of funny to me that most people are either on one "side" or the other - they either think Miles would kill Cheng, or that Cheng would kill Miles. I'm pretty sure it's somewhere in between. Miles has the advantage that he was about the best of the hardbat players in his era. Cheng has the advantage that he systematically trained his attacking strokes, footwork, and reflexes eight hours/day from age five to about 25, and has modern serving techniques Miles never saw. As good as Miles was, I don't think he could compete with the best out of thousands of kids training full-time from age five with a hardbat with top practice partners and under the tutelage of professional coaches (teaching both hardbat and modern techniques, such as modern serves), but of course Cheng did that training with sponge, and so never developed the hardbat defensive game, though his sponge attack and counter-hitting does convert rather well to hardbat. Overall, we're talking one heck of a nice match, and I would love to see it. Anyone got a time machine?

I don't think most current world-class players could convert to hardbat and challenge the very best hardbatters of the past. Every one is different, and some are more adaptable to change than others. A player like Cheng, whose game is based on control, is better at adapting then, say, an all-out two-winged power looper. But any world-class player, with practice, is going to dominate with a hardbat against all but the best current hardbat players.

Liu Guoliang's Love Story

Here's an article about Liu Guoliang falling in love at age 16, and the problems that ensued since the Chinese team had strict rules about this type of thing. Liu's most romantic memory? "Walking in the rain." 

SportsCenter's Top Ten Plays

David Wetherill of Great Britain made #1 on SportsCenter's Top 10 Plays with a diving shot off a crutch. Here's a link to the video of the match (42:49), which should take you straight to the where the shot takes place, just after 37:30.

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